Set in a suburban fantasy world, two teenage elf brothers embark on a quest to discover if there is still magic out there.
Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) is a shy teen elf who lacks confidence. He writes down goals to encourage himself to be bold like his older brother, Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt), who’s not afraid of anything but is often set in his ways. Ian also longs to learn more about the father who died from illness when Ian was very young. On Ian’s 16th birthday, his timid world is turned upside down when his mother gifts him with a magical staff that was owned by his dad. The staff comes with a letter written by his father with explicit instructions on how to use its magic to bring him back to life for only a day.
Barley attempts to use the staff’s magic but to no avail. When Ian gives it a try, the staff slowly begins to reveal his father’s feet, then legs and torso. But Ian lacks confidence in his ability to bring his dad back to life and the phoenix gem on the staff shatters rendering the spell incomplete. A huge fan of medieval fantasy games and a believer in magic, Barley realizes his brother possesses the gift of wizardry and needs another phoenix gem to complete the spell. The two, along with half of their father, embark on a quest to bring the rest of dad’s body back before day’s end.
Along their journey, they visit places that long ago were lairs to mythical creatures but are now fragments of the past. Ian must gain the courage he lacks to use his magical powers through the staff to fight off whoever or whatever gets in their way. Barley knows all the magical spells and Ian must trust him to reach their goal.Their mother (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) also sets off to find the boys with the help of a fantasy creature called “The Manticore” (voiced by Octavia Spencer). In the end, the family must all work together to bring their father back before sunset.
Onward is a story about trusting in one’s ability as well as the ability of the ones you love. Ian’s inabilities are mostly due to his lack of confidence in himself. Throughout his adventure, he learns to believe in himself and appreciate his brother’s upbringing. There are no faith elements included in the film, but it does demonstrate family bonds and acting courageously. Ian and Barley work together toward a common goal and both, at times, put their brother’s needs above their own.
Onward includes funny moments—mostly involving dad’s half body walking around—that are sure to make you laugh. The main characters spend most the movie battling fantasy monsters and evading the police. Fans of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons will recognize familiar monsters in the movie, like the gelatinous cube.
Overall, the movie is entertaining, but even this animation is not recommended for younger viewers. Due to violence and frightening scenes, and one female’s reference to her girlfriend, we are awarding our Dove Seal at 12+, highlighting the film’s good example of brotherhood and triumphing over shortcomings.
The Dove Take:
This animated comedy uses adventure to showcase the strength of brotherhood, but some magic scenes may be too violent for little ones.